Part of the job of a Hackaday writer involves seeking out new stories to write for your delectation and edification. Our tips line provides a fruitful fount of interesting things to write about, but we’d miss so much if we restricted ourselves to only writing up stories from that source. Each of us writers will therefore have a list of favourite places to keep an eye on and catch new stuff as it appears. News sites, blogs, videos, forums, that kind of thing. In my case I hope I’m not giving away too much to my colleagues when I say I keep an eye on the activities of as many hackspaces as I can.
So aside from picking up the occasional gem for these pages there is something else I gain that is of great personal interest as a director of my local hackspace. I see how a lot of other spaces approach the web, and can couple it to my behind-the-scenes view of doing the same thing here in our space. Along the way due to both experiences I’ve begun to despair slightly at the way our movement approaches the dissemination of information, the web, and software in general. So here follows a highly personal treatise on the subject that probably skirts the edge of outright ranting but within which I hope you’ll see parallels in your own spaces.
Before continuing it’s worth for a moment considering why a hackspace needs a public website. What is its purpose, who are its audience, and what information does it need to have?
Last week on the Hacklet I covered coffee hacks. Not everyone likes coffee though. A good portion of the world’s population enjoys a nice cup of tea. Different cultures are rather particular with how they prepare their drink of choice. Americans tend to use teabags, while British, Chinese (and much of the rest of the globe) generally prefer loose tea leaves. Everyone has their own particular style, which has led to quite a few tea hacks. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best tea projects on Hackaday.io!
We start with [James P.] and Tea Pi. Tea Pi is designed to emulate commercial tea makers costing hundreds of dollars. The heart of the operation is a Raspberry Pi, making this one of the first Linux powered tea makers we’ve ever heard of. An Adafruit PowerSwitch Tail allows the Pi to control a standard tea kettle. The Pi monitors water temperature with a DS18B20 temperature sensor. A simple servo drops a tea basket into the water for brewing. When the time is up, the servo pulls the basket up and the tea is ready to serve. [James P] planned to add voice control to his tea creation. I’m betting that would be pretty easy with Amazon’s voice services for the Raspberry Pi.
Next up is [Tom] with Eye-O-Tea. With this project, even your cup of tea can join the Internet of Things. Eye-O-Tea essentially is a web connected coaster with temperature monitoring built right in. Temperature is measured with a Melexis MLX90615 IR thermometer. An Arduino Pro Mini reads the temperature and passes it on to an ESP8266 WiFi module. The entire device is powered by a LiPo battery, and neatly housed in a gutted cup warmer. On the cloud side, [Tom] used ThinkSpeak and freeboard.io to make an interface he can access with his cell phone. If his tea is too hot, Eye-O-Tea will let him know. It will also send him an SMS if he’s forgotten his cup and it’s going cold.
Next we have [Adrian] and ChaiBot. Chaibot was created by [Adrian’s] son [Oliver] to combat a common problem. Both father and son would pour cups of tea, then get involved in a project. By the time they came back, they had ink. ChaiBot steeps the tea for a set amount of time, stirring every minute. The mechanics of the project came from an old CD-ROM drive. A PIC16F887 runs the show, ensuring the steep time is accurate, and activating the motor drive. When the tea is done, an ESP8266 sends a push notification to the user’s phone. The project is housed in a wooden case that fits perfectly on the kitchen counter.
Finally, we have [Siggi] with Camper Induction Cooker, a 2016 Hackaday Prize entry. [Siggi] needed hot liquids on the go, but he didn’t want to fool around with heating elements. An induction heater was the way to go. A Cypress PSOC micro controls the system. Metal travel style mugs can be used without modification. For ceramic or plastic mugs, a metal washer (hopefully coated with something food safe) acts as an immersion heater. The project is definitely a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I could see [Siggi’s] idea being incorporated into automotive cup holders. [Siggi] put his project on hold back in June. I hope seeing his work on the front page will get development moving again.
We’ve been all over the UK this month, our most recent Hackaday gathering just two nights past. With much hardware and hacker show and tell (recounted below) I wanted to make sure nobody missed the chance to join in as we’ll be in Bletchley on Saturday and in Cambridge on Wednesday. Whether you need more convincing to walk out the door and join in the fun, or just want to the see the excellent hardware so far displayed, keep reading to share in the fun from Wednesday night.
London pubs have an unfavourable image among provincial folk, one of being strange neon-lit places populated by vast crowds of very loud people in suits drinking cheap wine at expensive prices. The truth is though that the capital’s pubs are as diverse as those anywhere else in the country, from shabby quiet backstreet boozers with their aged customers nursing pints of Fullers to achingly hipster faux-Victorian gin-palaces in which young men sporting preposterous beards they’ll regret in five years time drink microbrewery ales you won’t have heard of served in glass tankards. On a hot August evening the patrons spill out onto the pavement and provide a handy reference to the would-be drinker as to the nature of the establishment.
This warm-evening exodus served our community well night before last, for when a group of Hackaday readers and Tindie sellers converged upon a pub in Fitzrovia there was enough room to reach the bar and though it was hardly quiet we could at least discuss the things we’d brought along. My colleague [Jasmine] had organised the event and was on hand with a pile of stickers and other swag.
A select group of hackers and makers made the journey. Some of them, such as my friend [David], I had encountered frequently online but never met in person so it was good to put a face to a name, while others I knew only by the reputation they had garnered through the projects they’d put on Hackaday.io or Tindie. I will undoubtedly fail to mention a few names in this quick round-up of a few of the projects, so before I start I would like to thank everyone for coming along and making it such a good evening.
Electric Stuff from Mike’s Workshop
Most visible because of an extensive range of very bright LED projects was [Mike], of [Mike’s Electric Stuff] fame. His PCB density was impressive, though he did admit to having a pick-and-place machine. Especially useful for those large LED matrices. Of note was a pentagonal LED screen with integrated camera, originally part of an LED screen polyhedron. This board offered a rare glimpse of a Raspberry Pi Compute Module in the wild.
Scope Probe Sans Pound Sink
Opposite me for most of the evening was [Leonerd], with his oscilloscope current probe adapter. This board as you might expect contains a very low value shunt resistor and an amplifier, allowing the accurate measurement of low current transients without laying down the GDP of a small country to buy one from a high-end test equipment manufacturer. I was party to a very interesting conversation between him and [Mike] on the subject of instrumentation amplifiers, something of personal interest from my experience with RF test equipment.
A Wild Z80 Appeared
Also present was [Spencer] with his RC2014 Z80-based computer. He’d brought along the fully tricked-out version with keyboard and screen, and had it running a fractal graphic generator written in BASIC. It’s a project that touches a spot in the heart of people of a certain age, if your first computer came from Sir Clive Sinclair then maybe you’ll understand.
The value of the evening was not solely in the kits and projects on display though. Whenever you get a group from our wider community together in a convivial environment the creative discourse flows in unexpected direction, knowledge is shared, and new ideas are formed. Part of the global Hackaday and Tindie community got to know each other yesterday evening, and from that will come fresh projects. They may not necessarily change the world, but everything has to start somewhere.
This event was one of a short series following our successful bring-a-hack at EMF Camp. We were very pleased to see the projects people brought along, they comprehensively eclipsed the little radio board that was my offering. The run of UK events isn’t over, we have ones coming up at Bletchley and Cambridge, and as always keep an eye on the Hackaday.io events page for global events within our community.
Hackers need fuel to hack. In general that fuel comes in the form of food, water, and caffeine. Not necessarily in that order. While soda or energy drinks will do in a pinch, the best hackers know that the purest form of caffeine comes from coffee. This of course means that there have been decades of coffee hacks. The first Internet-connected coffee pot dates all way back to 1991, before the web even had pictures. We’ve come a long way since then. This week on the Hacklet we’re checking out some of the best coffee hacks on Hackaday.io!
We start with [opeRaptor] and CoffeeOfThings. [OpeRaptor] has created a wireless, internet connected coffee carafe. The carafe has three CdS cells which enable it to detect how much black gold is left in the pot. A TMP36 sensor reports the current coffee temperature. Data is sent out via a NRF24l01 radio. The brains of the coffee pot is an MSP430 microcontroller. All this runs from a simple CR2032 coin cell. A base station receives the coffee data, displays it on a very nice Vacuum fluorescent Display (VFD). An ESP8266 then passes the data on to the internet.
Next up is [magnustron] with quad-386 coffee heater. No one likes a cold cup of coffee. Everyone loves old CPUs. [Magnustron] turned these two shower thoughts into a the world’s first USB powered quad CPU coffee warmer with data logging capabilities. A simple ATtiny461 micro runs the show. PC connectivity is via USB using the V-USB library. [Magnustron] has gotten the CPUs to warm up, but is having some issues with switching. them on. Turning all four heaters on too quickly causes the rail to droop, leading to dropped USB connections. Those power-hungry 386 chips may be a bit too much for a single USB connection. It might be time to add an external power supply.
Next is [kesh1030] with Using Waste Coffee As A Biodiesel Source. Coffee isn’t just liquid energy. There’s oil in them there grounds. Millions of pounds of used coffee grounds produced every year can be converted to biodiesel fuel. [Kesh1030] experimented with different coffee grounds, and different ways to prepare them. The oil was extracted from the coffee using hexane, which is a bit of a nasty solvent. [Kesh1030] used a fume hood to stay safe. He found that homogenized coffee grounds had an 11.87% oil yield. Used homogenized coffee grounds weren’t far behind, with 9.82% yield of oil. Nearly 10% per weight yield isn’t too shabby, considering this is all going into the trash.
Finally, we have [saadcaffeine] with Caffeinator: gravity powered geek fuel dripper. This is a project of few words, but the images tell much of the story. [Saadcaffeine] created his own cold drip iced coffee maker using upcycled and found components. Three clothes hangers form an ingenious tripod. The tripod holds two soda bottles – the water reservoir and the brew pot. Water is restricted by small holes in the soda bottle caps. This allows it to drop slowly though the machine, giving it time to soak up all the caffeinated goodness. The result is a fresh cup of cold drip. Just add ice and enjoy a quick power up!
We weren’t certain if this Star Wars fan film was out kind of thing until we saw the making of video afterwards. They wanted to film a traditional scene in a new way. The idea was to take some really good quadcopter pilots, give them some custom quadcopters, have them re-enact a battle in a scenic location, and then use some movie magic to bring it all together.
The quadcopters themselves are some of those high performance racing quadcopters with 4K video cameras attached. The kind of thing that has the power to weight ratio of a rocket ship. Despite what the video implies, they are unfortunately not TIE Fighter shaped. After a day of flying and a few long hikes to retrieve the expensive devices after inevitable crashes (which, fortunately, provided some nice footage), the next step was compositing.
However, how to trick the viewer into believing they were in a X-Wing quadcopter? A cheap way to do it would be to spend endless hours motion tracking and rendering a cockpit in place. It won’t look quite real. The solution they came up with is kind of dumb and kind-of brilliant. Mount a 3D printed cockpit on a 2×4 with a GoPro. Play the flight footage on a smartphone while holding the contraption. Try to move the cockpit in the same direction as the flight. We’re not certain if it was a requirement to also make whooshing and pew pew laser noises while doing so, but it couldn’t hurt.
In the end it all came together to make a goofy, yet convincingly good fan film. Nice work! Videos after the break.
If you haven’t heard, retrogaming is a thing. 40-somethings are playing the games of their youth alongside millennials who are just discovering these classic games. There are even folks developing new homebrew games for consoles as far back as the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600. This week on the Hacklet, we’re highlighting some of the best retrogaming console hardware hacks on Hackaday.io. Note that I did say hardware hacks. The focus this week is on games played on the original hardware. Don’t worry though, I’ll give emulated projects some love in a future Hacklet.
We start with [danjovic] and Atari 2600 Bankswitch Cartridge. The Atari 2600 is a legendary system. Millions of hackers’ first exposure to gaming came through its one button joystick. To make the unit affordable, Atari used a MOS Technology 6507 processor. Essentially it’s a 6502 in a 28-pin package. This meant several features got nerfed, most notably the address space. The 6507 can only address 8KB of RAM. In the Atari, only 4KB is available to the cartridge. Games got around the 4KB limit by bank switching – write a value to a magic address, and the bank switching logic would swap in a whole different section of cartridge ROM. There were several different bank switching schemes used over the years. [Danjovic] has created his own version of this bank switching logic, using only classic 74 series logic chips.
Next up is [ThunderSqueak] with Top Loader NES composite mod. Toward the end of the NES’s life, Nintendo introduced a cost-reduced version known as the “top loader”. This version had a top loading cartridge and no DRM lock-out chip. Unfortunately it also did away with composite AV ports. The only way to hook this NES to your TV was through the RF modulated output. [ThunderSqueak] and a number of other intrepid hackers have fixed this problem. All it takes is a 2N3906 PNP transistor and a few jellybean parts. The video and audio outputs are pulled from the motherboard before they enter the RF modulator. One nice feature is the clean connectors. [ThunderSqueak] used connectors from modular in-wall AV boxes for a setup that looks as good as it works.
Next we have [makestuff] with USB MegaDrive DevKit. Sega’s MegaDrive, or Genesis as it was known here in the USA, was a groundbreaking console. It used a Motorola 68000 16-bit CPU while most other systems were still running a Z80 or a 6502. People loved this console, and there are plenty who still want to develop software for it. Enter [makestuff] with his development kit. On a card with a $40 USD bill of materials, he’s managed to fit SDRAM, an FPGA, and a USB interface. This is everything you need to load and debug software on an unmodified console. The FPGA had enough logic left over that [makestuff] was able to implement a continuous bus cycle tracer over USB. Nice work!
Finally, we have our own [Joshua Vasquez] with R.O.B. 2.0. The original NES came in a deluxe version with a special pack in – a robot. Robotic Operating Buddy, or ROB for short, would play games with the player. Unfortunately ROB was a bit of a flop. It only worked with two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up Ice Climber. Most ROB units eventually found their way to the recycling bin. [Joshua] is building a new version of the ROB, with modern controls. He’s already modeled and 3D printed ROB’s head. I can’t wait to see this project come together!
Some of the best hacks are the tools people make to help them complete a project. I last looked at quick tool hacks back in Hacklet 53. Hackers have been busy since then, and new projects have inspired new tools. This week on the Hacklet, I’m taking a look at some of the best new quick tool hacks on Hackaday.io.
We start with [rawe] and aquarium pump vacuum pickup tool. Tweezers work great for resistors and caps, but once you start trying to place chips and other large parts, things quickly become frustrating. Commercial machines use high dollar vacuum pickup devices to hold parts. [rawe] built his own version using a cheap Chinese hand pickup tool and an aquarium pump. With some pumps, switching from air to vacuum is easy. Not with [rawe’s] pump. He had to break out the rotary tool and epoxy to make things work. The end result was worth it, a vacuum pickup tool for less than 10 Euro.
Next we have [David Spinden] with ViaConnect Circuit Board Test Tool, his entry in the 2016 Hackaday Prize. [David] wanted a spring loaded pin which could be used in .100 holes in printed circuit boards. He ended up using pins from one connector, shell from another, and packaging the whole thing up into a new tool. ViaConnect essentially makes any PCB as easy to use as a solderless breadboard. No headers required. This is great both for testing new designs and for the education sector.
Next up is our favorite quick tool hacker, [Alex Rich] with Improved Allen Wrench / Hex Key Holder. If [Alex] looks familiar, that’s because he’s the creator of the Stickvise. This time he’s come up with a new way to store and organize your Allen wrenches. Inspired by a similar device seen on a YouTube video from [Tom Lipton], [Alex] opened up his CAD software and started designing. The original used a steel spring to keep the wrenches in place. [Alex] switched the spring to a rubber o-ring. The o-ring securely holds the wrenches, but allows them to be easily pulled out for use. Of course the design is open source, so building your own is only a couple of hours of printing away!
Finally we have [Solarcycle] with Cordless Foam Cutting Tool – USB Rechargeable. Soldering irons make a lot of heat in a small area to melt metal. Foam cutters make heat in a larger area to cut Styrofoam. [Solarcycle] saw the relation and converted a Solderdoodle Pro cordless soldering iron into a banjo style hot wire foam cutter. A barrel connector converts the soldering iron tip output to two stiff wires. The stiff wires carry current to a 3 cm length of Kanthal iron-chromium-aluminium (FeCrAl) heating element wire. If you don’t have any Kanthal around, ask your local vape enthusiast – they have tons of it. The result is the perfect hand-held tool for carving and sculpting in foam. Just make sure to have lots of ventilation.